USA seizes North Korean cargo ship for violating sanctions

A North Korean cargo ship is seen north of Manila Philippines

The announcement came as tensions rose over Pyongyang's test launch early Thursday of two suspected short-range missiles, the second such move in a week.

Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of NY, said his office "uncovered North Korea's scheme to export tons of high-grade coal to foreign buyers by concealing the origin of their ship, the Wise Honest". Under an unusual US civil forfeiture action, the vessel is now in the possession of the United States and is currently approaching US territorial waters heading toward American Samoa, US Justice Department officials said.

Korea Songi, reportedly a subsidiary of a company controlled by the North Korean military, is additionally charged with breaking American law by using three different United States banks to pay for the ship's upkeep to the tune of $750,000.

The U.S. government announced the seizure of North Korean cargo ship allegedly used to sell coal in violation of worldwide sanctions.

"This sanctions-busting ship is now out of service", said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the Justice Department's top national security official.

American negotiators are now in South Korea for discussions on the current impasse following two high-level summits between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Geoffrey Berman, the USA attorney in NY whose office filed court papers against the ship, said "there's no connection at all" between the missile strikes and the Wise Honest seizure.

After Indonesian authorities intercepted and detained the vessel on or about April 2, 2018, it was discovered that the ship "attempted to hide information about its location, course, speed or other navigational status while in the course of transporting coal from North Korea to Indonesia" by turning off its transponder, according to the Justice Department.

"This scheme not only allowed North Korea to evade sanctions, but the Wise Honest was also used to import heavy machinery to North Korea, helping expand North Korea's capabilities and continuing the cycle of sanctions evasion", Berman said in a statement.

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It said the vessel's owner, the Korea Songi Shipping Company, had used it to illicitly export coal and import heavy machine, and paid for maintenance and equipment using USA dollars in violation of U.S. and worldwide sanctions on North Korea. A representative of Songi also allegedly routed over $750,000 in payments for coal shipments through unwitting US banks. "In return, large shipments of heavy machinery were returned to North Korea using the same vessels".

United Nations sanctions Resolution 2371, adopted in August 2017, bans all North Korean exports of coal, iron, lead and seafood.

North Korea has been the subject of a series of U.S. and global sanctions over Pyongyang's development of nuclear weapons and missile tests.

The captain was arrested and charged with "knowingly hoisting a false flag", according to UN Security Council documents.

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, walk together to their one-on-one bilateral meeting, Tuesday, June 12, 2018, at the Capella Hotel in Singapore.

U.S. News noted Trump previously has cited North Korea's lull in missile and nuclear tests as evidence that his outreach to the communist regime was proving successful.

North Korea sought to disguise the nationality of the ship and the origin of its cargo, according to the complaint.

"We are willing and able to deploy the full array of law enforcement tools to detect, deter, and prosecute North Korea's deceptive attempts to evade sanctions", Berman said.

South Korea's military reported that the missiles were fired from North Korea's western area.

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